Visiting Fayetteville, West Virginia is nothing less than inspiring. But there was a time when entering Fayetteville meant looking at something somber: a billboard with a picture of 5 children and a plea from the family asking for any news on their fates.

The Sodders

The official explanation when it comes to the disappearance of these children, Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha, and Maurice, aged 5-14 is that they perished in a fire which consumed their family home on Christmas Eve in 1945. The other explanation which is more accepted by the family is that the kids were kidnapped from the home while it was on fire as retribution.

George and Jennie, the parents, were Italian immigrants although George was the only one who actually spent a considerable amount of time in Italy. They were the perfect example of the American dream. George had started on the railroad in Pennsylvania and moved up till he eventually ran a trucking company out of West Virginia. The couple had 10 kids and lived in a duplex in Fayetteville where a lot of Italian immigrants had settled.

George was dedicated to his family, but he never thought twice about making his beliefs known. He discussed his disapproval for Benito Mussolini quite frequently, even though many Italian-Americans considered him a tower of strength who helped rebuild Italy after World War 1. Arguments with others were quite common for George, and he had received quite a few threats too during the war years.

Let’s look at what happened.

On the eve of Christmas in 1945, the family was celebrating with 9 of their children. The war was over, and this meant that their eldest son was going to return soon from the army. Marion, one of the daughters, had bought presents for her youngest siblings using the money she earned from a new job. At night, five children went to the attic to sleep.

At around 1 am, Jennie woke up to a sound on the roof and a rolling noise. She fell asleep again but woke up again around half an hour later to smoke smell. It didn’t take too long for her to realize the fire was from a fuse box in the office. The kids were still sleeping in the attic at the time.

Sylvia, Marion, Jennie, George, and the two older boys escaped the fire. John, and one of the older boys, said that he had gone upstairs to check on the siblings too. He changed this account later saying he only called out to them. How do you run outside of the home without all of your children? That is strange. Someone who would do this could possibly already know that the rest of their children were not even up there! This points suspicions at the father to some people.

And he did this before his oldest boy returned home!

The fire occurred at a disastrous time. It was late at night and on Christmas. The entire town was closed. A lot of locals were in the military still, and the fire department was under-staffed.

Apart from this, there were multiple mysterious misfortunes which made the rescue impossible. A high ladder which is usually against one of the walls was not there. The water barrel had frozen, and the telephone line wasn’t working. George tried starting his truck so he could park it under the window of the attic and get up there to rescue his children. But the engine wouldn’t start. He tried climbing the wall and opening the window. He couldn’t reach the bedroom, though.

Heartbroken, the family had to see their house and their children (as they believed at the time) being consumed by the fire.

The Investigations

The fire department only arrived at 8 am in the morning. The reason they gave was that the Fire Chief F. J. Morris, couldn’t drive. Fire investigations usually last days or weeks, but this one just lasted a couple of hours. Bones weren’t found, and the family was told that the children must have completely burned away. George, unable to bear this sight, bulldozed whatever remained under dirt.

After a few weeks, the Sodders started believing that their kids were kidnapped, maybe by the mafia, who resented the anti-Mussolini rants by George. The missing ladder was later found in a ravine nearby. Investigators decided that the fire was caused by faulty wiring even though George says the house had been rewired and the Christmas lights were still on during the fire. There was a hotel owner nearby who said he had hosted some lodgers who were with children. On speaking with an employee from the local crematorium, Jennie was certain that the bones couldn’t have been incinerated in the fire.

The Sodders then hired a PI (Private Investigator) who got a lead soon after. There was a heart found amidst the ashes in the house. The heart was secretly removed and buried by Fire Chief Morris. This was confessed to a church minister who confirmed it later.

Morris admitted to it too when confronted. He took Sodder where it was buried. Indeed there was a box there with flesh. A funeral director said it was beef liver though and had never felt extreme heat.

This bizarre twist is one of the reasons why people feel Morris was trying to convince the Sodders that their kids died in the fire which would throw him off their true fate. This theory might just be true. But it won’t be because Morris was trying to cover up a kidnapping. It would be because he was trying to hide his incompetence.

He admitted to not being able to drive the fire truck and to only conducting a two-hour investigation which wasn’t adequate. Also, George would have most probably buried all the remains of the Sodder children too deep when he bulldozed the home.

The Sodders didn’t abandon their theories for one second. Advertisements and billboards were put up all over town asking for any information on the missing children. In 1967, they even received a photograph which was supposed to be of Louis, all grown up. This might just have been a cruel trick someone played on them since their story was national news and everyone knew the details. Even after various follow-ups on multiple tips, there have been no substantial developments in this case whatsoever. The kidnapping theory is the only one which lingers even until today.

Final Thoughts

George may have kidnapped his own children because he was worried that some of the violent fascists in his community, who could not admit the truth that Mussolini was a terrible person who failed Italy. George got his kids out of there, well some of them at least, according to some people.

Not one bone was found or tooth? That is just not likely.

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